March 6th, 2023
FirstNameChris Gets His First Tattoo
TikTok creator, Chris Punsalan, shares his journey of becoming a caretaker as well as the meaning behind his very first tattoo
These days, everybody is hyper-focused on advancing their careers and growing professionally. When one is dedicated to the hustle they can too easily let the most important parts of life—friends, relationships and family—fall by the wayside. Chris Punsalan, a 29-year-old caretaker and content creator, has managed to find a harmonious balance between it all. Being a full-time caretaker for his grandmother is his primary focus, all of his other projects and passions come second. He never sought this lifestyle out, but he now embraces it wholeheartedly.
Punsalan started making TikToks in 2019, initially focusing on music production and fitness content. Eventually, he had the idea to mic himself up and show a glimpse into the largest part of his life—taking care of his grandma. In these videos, he assists his grandma with various tasks such as transporting her around the house, lifting her from wheelchair to her bed, helping her eat and upkeeping her hygiene. All the while, Punsalan’s lighthearted personality shines through in the playful banter he shares with his grandma—inside jokes viewers have picked up over time, such as the adorable “tanks” he utters with every sip of water grandma takes, or the endearing recital of the days of the week, “Chooseday” (in place of “Tuesday”) being the star of the show.
Punsalan didn’t always imagine this life. Previously, he would help a different caretaker who visited daily with grandma’s needs. “That was my introduction to it, but I never saw myself as a full-time caregiver,” he explains. “It was really difficult for me to even help the caregiver because it made me really uncomfortable, seeing my grandmother like that. I grew up with her, so seeing her not being able to do things for herself was really difficult for me.”
When the caretaker could no longer make visits, Punsalan and his family had a discussion about what was next. Since he was about to graduate and didn’t have anything lined up, Punsalan felt the choice was obvious. “I was like, I’d rather be the one to take care of her instead of bringing her to home care,” he says. “I wasn’t forced into it, but I felt like it was my obligation to step up and take on the responsibility. Now, I couldn’t imagine my life being any other way.”
Documenting his lifestyle came naturally to Punsalan given he grew up watching vloggers like Roman Atwood and Charles Trippy on YouTube, and even had his own channel in 2014. When Punsalan first started posting TikToks featuring his grandma, he didn’t expect them to reach so many people. “I had no idea it would do that,” he says regarding the content going viral. “I feel like that’s what everyone says, but kind of in the back of our mind, it would be nice if the video(s) would take off. It was just really nice to see people accepting and being really receptive to it.”
Though Punsalan is grateful for the audience he has grown, the experience hasn’t been easy. “Obviously with anything you post online, there’s a chance for people to find a way to bring it down or just to talk negatively about it,” he says. When Punsalan received negative comments about his music production, it was easy to brush off. But with videos of his grandma, negativity feels more personal. At the end of the day, though, Punsalan is able to re-center himself with his supportive family and community who remind him why he posts in the first place. “People get to hear their language, Kapampangan, which is a dying language,” he shares. “Somebody sent me a letter saying that where [their] parents grew up, the language is dying, so they don’t really hear people speaking it in the place where it originated. By continuing to post these videos, it’s like keeping the language alive.”
A few weeks ago, Punsalan embarked on a four-day journey—which he documented on TikTok—to Houston to meet with a renowned artist, Tony Ta at Timeless Ink Studio, to acquire his first tattoo. Punsalan didn’t hold anything back with his first piece—a sleeve depicting a koi fish swimming up a raging current and emerging as a dragon on the other side. The idea to get a tattoo was planted in Punsalan’s mind by family members, whose ink he secretly admired for years.
The piece depicts a Chinese mythological tale called “Longmen” or “The Dragon Gate,” and it holds a powerful meaning to Punsalan. “It’s a story of the koi fish at the bottom of the current and swimming up,” he explains. “It was said that any koi fish that could get over the current, and over The Dragon Gate, would become a dragon.” The tale reminds Punsalan of the journey his parents made from the Philippines to immigrate to the United States. “Moving to a different country where I don’t speak the language—I just can’t even imagine myself doing that. To imagine my parents doing it with no help, with no other family members living here, just for more opportunity and a better life for me and my brother—that’s what the story reminds me of.”
Punsalan enjoys sharing the videos of his daily life taking care of his grandmother, and he hopes viewers take a couple things away from watching them. “Putting myself in an old person’s shoes—like hopefully when I become a grandfather—if I had a grandchild to help me out, it would just make life so much easier,” he says. “I think [caregiving] is an underappreciated field. I just want to shed some light on caregivers and hopefully inspire younger people to want to take care of their parents or grandparents.”
We know you’re wondering what his grandma thought when she saw Punsalan’s first tattoo. The reveal was documented on TikTok, of course. As he displays the fresh piece before her eyes, a look of confusion dawns upon her face. “It’s a… blouse?” she responds to her grandson’s questioning of what it is. Before long, though, she understands it’s a tattoo, and gives her final verdict. “Whatever you do, I like it,” she says. “I know that it’s right.”
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